Survey of young adults uncovers stigma and low knowledge surrounding HIV

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Results from a new survey have suggested that young adults have low knowledge of HIV and its transmission, and that this is coupled with high-risk sexual behaviours, poor disease management and stigmatizing behaviours.

The survey was carried out by Merck (NJ, USA) in partnership with the Prevention Access Campaign and aimed to better understand beliefs and perceptions surrounding HIV.

Although HIV diagnoses in the USA have remained stable between 2012 and 2016, in young adults aged 25–29, new cases have actually increased over this period and now account for the majority of new diagnoses.

The ‘Owning HIV’ survey was a one-time online survey carried out between June 17 and August 5, 2019, enrolling 1596 individuals aged 18–36 who self-reported as HIV positive or HIV-negative. The results suggested that participants were not being effectively informed about HIV and it’s transmission – particularly in those aged 18–22, where 41% of HIV-negative participants said they were either ‘not at all informed’ or ‘only somewhat informed’ about HIV, compared with 23% of HIV-negative 23–36 year-olds.

The survey also demonstrated that HIV stigma persists among young adults in the USA; more than a quarter to the HIV-negative 23–36 year olds said they have avoided hugging, talking to, or being friends with someone with HIV – despite no risk of transmission. Moreover, 30% said they would prefer not to interact socially with someone living with HIV.

The survey also showed that many young adults aren’t being accurately informed about the meaning of an undetectable viral load – nearly 50% of HIV-negative respondents believed the virus could be transmitted when someone is undetectable. And while most survey respondents who are living with HIV are on treatment, 33% of 18–22 year olds and 38% 23–36 year olds reported that they have forgotten to take their medicine for 3 or more days in a row – potentially impacting the suppression of their viral load. In addition, more than 30% of diagnosed participants incorrectly believe a person with HIV can stop treatment if they are feeling better.

“Despite scientific advances and decades of HIV advocacy and education, the findings highlight a disturbing trend: young adults overwhelmingly are not being informed effectively about the basics of HIV,” commented Bruce Richman, founding Executive Director, Prevention Access Campaign. “These findings are a call to action that the crisis in the USA is far from over. It’s time to elevate a real conversation about HIV and sexual health among America’s young people and roll out innovative and engaging initiatives to educate and fight HIV stigma.”

Peter Sklar, Director of clinical research at Merck Research Laboratories, concluded: “Merck invested in this research because of our ongoing and long-standing commitment to the HIV community, and it’s clear based on these findings, unmet needs exist among vulnerable populations across our country,”

“Understanding the problem is the first step in preventing a deepening of the HIV epidemic. We must continue to search for ways to better understand young people’s perceptions of HIV, promote safer sex behaviors and drive education and action in this population. It’s time to act. We are proud to champion these important issues with Prevention Access Campaign.”

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Source: Merck. New survey of young adults uncovers low levels of accurate knowledge about HIV transmission coupled with high-risk sexual behaviors. www.mrknewsroom.com/news-releases/all/all/all

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